Top of Mind: Mike Barnicle
Is it possible Mike Barnicle is still the most obsessed-about journalist in town? One could make the case: Consider the fuss when he joined Jack Connors and Jack Welch in trying to buy the Globe, and the further fuss that followed his rumored job talks with WBUR. Meanwhile, more than a decade after losing his marquee Globe column for sins against journalism, Barnicle is a fixture on NBC and MSNBC, and fields assignments from Newsweek and Time. On 12/5 at the Charles Hotel, he talked with Boston about those projects—and shared his thoughts on a few other topics, too.
Burnett: You said Bulger didn’t talk to you for 10 years… Did something happen to break the ice there?
Barnicle: You know, I think what happened there was it had to be maybe the early ’80s when I wrote a couple of things about his brother, Jimmy, Whitey, basically saying you can’t move an ounce of cocaine in South Boston without his approval. Bill Bulger was furious, insisting to me that his brother was not a drug dealer, had nothing to do with drugs… In retrospect, clearly he believed that then. Somewhere along the line, I think he probably came to the realization that his brother was into a lot more than he wanted to believe. I don’t know how the relationship thawed, but it began to thaw, and I had lunch with him one day over in South Boston, probably a year before the 2004 gubernatorial election, and he was so very proud to take me out to the parking lot and show me his car, and the bumper sticker on his car, which was a “Deval Patrick For Governor” bumper sticker, and of course, part of the reason was, he hated Tommy Reilly, the then Attorney General. There’s a story to it all. But I think Bill Bulger probably went at least four or five years without talking to me because he was so offended by my inaccuracy about his brother.
Burnett: Ever any encounters with a guy like Dershowitz?
Barnicle: Alan! Sure! I see Alan a lot, I see him at Fenway Park a lot. As a matter of fact, I got him a couple of tickets to a play off game a couple of years ago… Alan’s a good guy.
Burnett: But famously someone that you sparred with.
Barnicle: Sure, yeah. The sun comes up every day, you know. Every day is new.
Burnett: So you guys have buried the hatchet?
Barnicle: Yeah, oh yeah.
Burnett: Where do you get your news from on a daily basis?
Barnicle: I read about four or five papers a day, the actual print product. Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, the Times, Globe, Herald, and then the gift of the Internet. I look at several more. I don’t really browse many blogs.
Burnett: In some ways, do you think blogs have taken the place of newspaper columnists?
Barnicle: I realize this is the view of someone who has been in the print business for a long time. But I think blogging, by and large, is basically therapy. And I’m sure, and I know, that there are some terrific bloggers, and some legitimate bloggers. But I think by and large, a huge percentage of people who are blogging, are doing it for self-therapy. They have a voice. Who reads that voice? Who listens to that voice, reads, pays attention to that voice, I have no idea. My larger issue with blogging, is I think what it does, when it comes to newspapers, and I understand the cutbacks, the economics of newspapers, but when you take gifted reporters out, covering anything from a baseball game to a city council meeting and say, “You need to blog something on this, we need to get it on the website…” I think what you do, what happens, the danger is that you don’t get the opportunity to think enough about what you just witnessed or what someone just said.
One of the big shortcomings of the American newspaper industry, not so much magazines, because you have time, is this tendency to rush everything on the website, because you have to blog about it. In addition to it being a lot of work, writing is a lot of work, and [blogging] doesn’t give you the time to stop and think. To frame it up. There’s some reference point to what you just saw or what you just heard. Years ago, you’d go out and do the reporting for a column, something that happened in the morning or someone you saw in the morning. You’d have time to get a cup of at coffee the Java House on East Broadway in South Boston, go down to the water, sit there in the car, and think about what you just witnessed. And what it meant in a larger context. Violence in the city. Murder on Humboldt Avenue. What did it mean? Wasn’t there some other murder that occurred two blocks over? What did that have to do with that? Are they linked? Why is it that all of these things occur within six blocks of one another? But if you’re going to blog it, it’s going to go out of your mind. You’re not going to think about it. We don’t think enough in this business. Slow down. Think about things.